March 21, 2013

Ten Years After


Minutes trudge,
Hours run,
Years fly,
Decades stun.

Ten years ago we invaded Iraq in Operation Shock and Awe. Well, I think it's fair to say the shock was on us. With over 4,400 American soldiers killed and nearly 32,000 wounded out of the 1.5 million men and women who served in Iraq, not to mention well over 100,000 civilian casualties, and with original cost estimates of $50-60 billion compared to actual costs over $800 billion, yeah, you could say it's been a bit of a shock.

And the reward for all this effort? A government that hates our guts, blames us for everything that has gone wrong and will go wrong with Iraq, and is Iran's new best friend. But not to worry. They were democratically elected, so it's all good. Right?

Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously observed that democracy is messy. Well, wars are pretty damned messy, too. Of course if he had actually been in a war -- if any of the leading architects of the Iraq war had actually served in the military -- they might have looked a little longer and harder before they leaped.

And why did we get into all this in the first place? To eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? To get the oil? To end Saddam's despotic rule? To show Daddy who's the boss in this house? No one can really say for sure. The fog of politics. My guess, it's most likely all of the above.

Do any or all of these possible rationales seem worth the costs we have paid or the benefits we have gained? Not likely. Will we continue to make the same mistakes? Very likely.

I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but I have become one of those who believe we need to get back to some sort of mandatory conscription when the nation goes to war. I'm not advocating universal service, military or otherwise. We don't have the kind of money to do that.

What we can do is make it mandatory that when Congress authorizes large-scale military operations overseas, then -- and I'm picking a number out of the air -- 20,000 men and women must be randomly selected to be trained and deployed each year the war continues. This is doable in terms of the cost, and it is a big enough number to get people's attention.

If the war has wide support, there should be no problem is getting the consent of the governed. Think about an invasion of South Korea by North Korea. Most likely people would support doing whatever it took to defeat such a move. But something as sketchy as Iraq, would public approval have been so readily acquired if it was my kid who might have to go marching off to war? Maybe, maybe not.

As someone who was drafted and sent to a war zone, I understand the toll it takes on your life. But I also know that the draft was a leading reason why the American people eventually said, "Stop! No more." We were warned of the danger of having an all-volunteer army. Those fears have come true, at a terrible cost not only to the men and women in uniform and their families but to the tens of thousands of civilians who have had their lives devastated by wars fought in their backyards.

So, yeah, let's think about bringing back the draft. And then let's pray we never have to use it.

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